This is a guest post by Dennis Field. He's currently working on his first book, The Designer’s Handbook.

We’re in the middle of a design boom. Thanks to the success of design-conscious brands like Apple and Nike, more and more companies are starting to see the value of focusing on design.

Just look at Google’s recent Material Design initiative if you’re not yet convinced.

So there’s plenty of work for everyone, and thanks to services like Folyo that connect designers with clients it’s easier than ever to heard about new opportunities.

Yet even in these conditions, winning new projects can still be a challenge. In my experience, I’ve found that it’s never about the amount of work available. It’s about fit, and above all making that first impression matter.

I’ve been on both sides of the table. I’ve hired contractors for projects, and I’ve been hired by clients. In this article, I’m going to share with you everything that I’ve learned from those experiences so that you stand a better chance at winning that new project when it lands in your inbox.

Put Time On Your Side

This may be a pretty simple tip, but the first thing you need to do when a new lead drops into your inbox is act on it quickly.

You don’t have to be immediate, but don’t let it sit too long either. I like to try to respond within an hour or so of a lead hitting my inbox.

Often times this lead may be reaching out to other designers across the web, and the faster I can focus their attention back to me and stop them from sending emails to potential competitors, the better chance I stand.

Blog tradition mandates adding this picture of a clock whenever somebody mentions the concept of time.

The second reason I do this is just to stand out. By responding quickly I immediately let the prospect know that I pride myself on being dependable and instill confidence.

Their reaction is always positive, and they’re usually thankful for being so quick to respond. So being quick is an easy way to get the conversation started off on the right foot.

Respond Like You Care

In most cases, clients don’t know precisely what a designer’s job entails. So don’t be offended if they reach out to you with a pretty vague email, or on the contrary with their guard up, saying they already have an idea of what they’re looking for.

Sure, you have to be aware of some red flags, but treat your response as an opportunity to show your professionalism, value, and potential.

Share with them everything that they need to know about your process, rates and how you like to move forward. Provide a few available times that you may available for a free consultation.

This dog cares. Do you?

And throughout the process, be sure to respond in a friendly manner that projects interest. Your goal here is to set up time to talk through the project in more detail.

Even if you may not currently be available, schedule the call anyways to learn more about their business. Who knows, you might make such a good impression that they’ll be willing to wait a couple weeks.

Useful Apps

Because time is money, I like to use Alfred snippets to quickly paste a canned response into an email. In the near future, I’ll also be using scheduling tools like Calendly or Timeblocker to help streamline my appointment scheduling process.

Build A Relationship

Although this article is about first impressions, the truth is that most projects are not won with the first email.

Your goal is to focus on building a relationship with your prospect through each conversation with them. Sure, let them know early on what they can expect in regards to a rate, but keep the door open for conversation even if they appear taken back.

Again, most clients simply don’t know what to expect. By keeping your conversation open minded, you’ll provide them with a sense of comfort that you are someone that sees value not just in their dollar, but more importantly in their business.

So if you want to build a strong, on-going relationship with a client, focus on building trust with them early on, and over time they’ll begin to feel more and more comfortable giving up some control and relying on you.

Don’t (Always) Make It About Money

Sure, money makes the world go round. And yes, we all have to put food on the table. But sometimes, making your early conversations about money can be counter-productive.

Focusing on the budget early on can create an obstacle that ends up sinking the whole deal.

Sometimes it “pays” (get it?) to not care too much about money.

On the other hand, if you focus on understanding and helping your client first to the point where they come to trust and value your work, they will often magically come up with the extra funds that they swore they didn’t have before.

Keep In Touch

Whenever possible, I like to leave each conversation by either asking the client when I can expect to hear back from them, or else letting them know when I’ll follow up.

This ensures that they don’t forget that I exist as they continue to think through their options. It also continues to show commitment and dependability.

Remember that it may not be the first, second or even third time talking with a client that you’re able to clinch the deal. That’s why it’s so important to make sure there always is a next time.

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule is often stated as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and even the Ancient Chinese and Babylonians knew about it. So you really have no excuse for not applying it.

Confucius: not the most handsome guy ever, but he knew about the Golden Rule.

This may be another no-brainer, but if you treat others the way you’d like to be treated your odds of winning that project or providing a great first impression with a client suddenly get much higher.

Picture yourself in their position. You don’t know their full story, but you can bet they are wanting to get the best value from their money as they can.

More often than not, it’s not about the actual price of a project as much as it is about you providing the right value for them.

Don’t Overdo It

Early on in my career I used to really stress about first impressions and my track record of winning projects. Sometimes this stress would cause me to be fake in my responses, and think too much about things that really don’t matter.

If you’re winning every single project that comes your way, maybe it’s time to consider bumping your rates. Sure, everyone likes to win projects, but you’ll find you’ll soon burn yourself out, and that can be a lot worse long-term than missing out on a few clients.

And on the other hand, remember that you can’t win them all. If you know you’re offering the right amount of value for what you are charging, then maybe you’re just not a good fit for that particular project.

Share the Love

Which brings me to my final point. Knowing that you won’t win them all can help you keep a clear perspective when validating your prospects.

If at any time in early conversations, you feel like you and the client won’t make a great fit, then don’t be afraid to refer them along to someone else. In fact, if you haven’t developed a list of alternative designers that you know are worthy of your referral, you should do so immediately.

Folyo’s referral program: a great way to let your extra clients know about Folyo while making a little money.

You’d be amazed at how helpful passing along an alternative designer is for a prospect. Not only does it help them find a fit much earlier on in their quest for a designer, it can also help you.

I’ve had potential clients that I’d referred to other designers, actually bring me new business because they respected the fact that I helped them find a great fit early on, and showed honesty and care for their business instead of simply going after their wallet.

Takeaways


So if you find that you are struggling with winning projects or making a good first impression, maybe you’re being too closed off to the actual need of the prospect.

We all want to make money and create great work for our clients, but we can’t lose sight of the huge benefits that are also gained by building real relationships with real people.

To make things easier for you and to say thanks for reading, I’ve made the exact “New Prospect Email Response” that I talked about above available to you as a free template. Feel free to download it and fill in the blanks with your information. I hope it saves you some time, and helps you win many new projects!